Seeing It from the Victims' Perspectives

Byline: By Christina Vinson

News Category: Inmate Reentry Programs

About 90 percent of inmates will one day leave prison and return to their communities, according to Tommy Corman, treatment manager at CCA Hardeman County Correctional Center in Whiteville, Tenn. And once they're released, it’s up to them to assimilate well. That’s why CCA’s Victims Impact Program is so important.

Currie Gibson, Addictions Treatment counselor at Hardeman, instructs inmates through the Victims Impact program Currie Gibson, Addictions Treatment counselor at Hardeman, instructs inmates through the Victims Impact program.

Victims Impact, a 12-week program, was developed by the Office of Victims of Crimes, and its purpose is to put a face on the victim; a major part of reducing recidivism is helping inmates understand the impact of their actions.

Tim O’Dell, CCA director of Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services, said, “The program’s intent is to help the perpetrators of crimes to come to an understanding of the impact of their conduct on the lives of their victims. This increase of awareness is intended to put a face on the victim so to speak. Perpetrators typically depersonalize their victims and thus insulate themselves from any emotional response to the victim’s suffering.”

The curriculum is very focused, and it shows the full weight of what victims go through to the perpetrators by putting a face on the victim of crimes. Corman said, “A lot of times, an inmateis incarcerated and will begin to compartmentalize — separate feelings of guilt, etc. — they don’t see how they hurt individuals or the community. “ Because of that compartmentalizing, the risk of a repeat offender is high — after all, if you don’t understand the depth of what you’ve done and you don’t see the negative effects, it may not seem as detrimental.

LaVeta Carney, case manager at CCA Marion County Jail II in Indianapolis, Ind., said, “If they don’t understand that what they’re doing impacts others, it’s hard for them to realize how much damage they cause.”

Richard Pfifer, chief of unit management at Marion County, added that many inmates don’t realize being a victim isn’t just isolated to the one being affected. He explained that crime affects the perpetrator, victim, and so many other areas. If a burglary is committed, there are legal fees, bonds posted, and financial costs for both the victim and perpetrator. The perpetrator may be pulled from their family into prison thus affecting the family’s financials. The victims and their children may not feel safe in the home anymore. A crime doesn’t simply cost replacing a broken window; it may be counseling or the cost of not being with family because you need to work three jobs to pay restitution. These are the effects revealed in the program.

Because the idea of Victims Impact is to put a face on the victim, it works to change the mindset of a perpetrator who “will come to think of his/her potential victims from a more personal perspective (what if that were my grandmother, my father, my mother, my sister, etc.) and thus reduce the motivation for criminal conduct,” O’Dell said.

Victims Impact is a small yet mighty piece in the habilitation and reentry process. No one program in the process can claim to achieve it all but the rate of reoffending among those who complete victim impart is reported by OVC to be significantly less.

Corman added, “It helps them know no man is an island, and every action has a ripple effect on others. When they get out of prison, get a job, pay bills, and live right, it has a positive ripple effect on themselves and the community.”

Future plans for the Victim Impact Program is to have it integrated into all of CCA’s facility’s reentry process' to help reduce the number of future victims. The current immediate goal, said O’Dell, is to add six additional programs during 2016.

While Victims Impact certainly helps perpetrators, italso can help victims. Victims do have the opportunity to inform the criminals who violated them how it impacts them, their direct relationships, and the whole community. Those who participate in sharing their story are given a voice. They can share their frustration, sense of loss, pain, and suffering, and they can be the face and the voice to those who have victimized others.

Corman added, “Victims often think it’s their fault, and this helps validate the challenges and pain they go through.”

The program has a huge impact on the criminal, victims, families, and even CCA employees.

“Everyone believes when you are incarcerated you are a 'bad person’ but those who participate in the program, you see a difference in their attitude and behavior,” Carney said. “One of my inmates was always fighting. He heard about Victims Impact and pleaded with me, saying, ‘Please let me come; I promise I’ll do right.’ For 30 days, I thought it wouldn’t work. But, he shocked me. The way he acted in the dorms was not really who he was. I was really touched by him — someone so damaged — when I saw what was really inside of him. It helps you keep going.”

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